Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake job cost, scams and rip-offs

How to avoid brake job scams

What are the most common brake job scams and rip-offs?

Every car and truck needs a brake job eventually and they’re not cheap. Here’s some information on brake job cost. But if you’re not up to date on the latest brake job scams and rip-offs you’ll get suckered into paying hundreds more than you should. The shop will play the fear factor.

I’ll walk you through what a brake job should cost and then explain how unscrupulous shops pressure into replacing perfectly good but very expensive parts. If you’d like to know more about how brakes work and what each part does, read this article.

How much is a typical brake job?

A typical brake job takes about an hour to perform. Depending on the shop’s hourly labor rate, that can run from $80 to $140 at a dealer. Read this post for a full explanation of brake job costs.

Here’s a list of brake parts typically replaced in a normal brake job:

• Brake pads— (OEM) quality ceramic brake pads (the kind used on about  60% of all new cars) brake pad costsell for about $60. If you want a better brake pads, ask for premium quality brake pads made by a name brand manufacturer. Those pads cost about $90/set.

• Hardware kits and noise reduction shims— Abutment hardware: anti-rattle clips and drag reduction springs and noise reduction shims must be replaced. brake hardwareMost premium  brake pads come with these parts (for free). If the shop is claiming to install premium brake pads but is charging you extra (usually $10 to $18) for hardware kits and shims, you’re being scammed.

So a typical brake job runs between $200 and $250.

Can the shop reuse your old brake rotors?

Maybe. The shop will measure the thickness of your existing rotors and evaluate the amount of rust. If meets minimum thickness measurements, the rotor isn’t deeply scored, is perfectly parallel and the rust is easily removed, you can reuse the rotor. See this post to learn more about whether the shop can reuse rotors.

If your rotors meet thickness requirements but have scoring or are out of parallel, they may be candidates for “machining,” where an on-car brake lathe cuts a thin layer of metal off the rotor face to obtain a fresh braking surface. Some shops include machining charges in their brake job pricing, while other shops charge about $25 each to resurface your old rotors.

If your rotors can’t be resurfaced, they must be replaced. Rotor replacement cost varies widely depending on how popular your vehicle is. High volume cars and trucks attract multiple aftermarket parts parts suppliers and that drives down the cost for everyone. Rotors for a popular Toyota Camry, for example, may cost as little as $65-each, while a rotor for lower volume luxury vehicle can cost upwards of $125-each.

Do you need rebuilt brake calipers?

Brake calipers are the single most unnecessarily replaced component in the brake job business. In fact, most brake calipers can operate well up to 150,000 miles without requiring replacement. Shops replace them routinely because they increase the profit on every brake job. But brake calipers should only be replaced if they’re leaking, if the dust boots are torn or the caliper doesn’t release properly (and it’s not the fault of the caliper pins/slides or bracket). If your brake caliper exhibits any of those problems it must be replaced with a rebuilt unit. Since rebuilders buy worn calipers from junkyard, the prices they charge directly reflect the prices they have to pay for the worn units. If the vehicle sells in high volume, the rebuilders can buy worn calipers for less. Here’s an example; rebuilt calipers for our sample 2011 Toyota Camry will cost about $90-each, while calipers for a 2011 Cadillac SRX cost about $145-each.

What are the most common brake job scams and rip-offs?

1) Bait-and-Switch—Advertising a brake job for $99

No shop can make money selling a brake job for this price unless they’re using inferior parts (to learn more about cheap inferior parts, see this post). In fact, almost nobody actually pays the advertised price. The second you walk in the door, the shop will try to upsell you to “better” brake pads and they’ll find more brake parts that “must” be replaced. Brake job prices should include at least OEM quality brake pads. You shouldn’t have to upgrade unless you have a specific problem you’re trying to address like rapid wear or excessive noise or dust.

The bait and switch scam is so prevalent that some State Attorney Generals have pursued legal action against chain operated brake shops for advertising a price that consumers never actually pay. Do a search for the California lawsuit against Midas to see how the scam works. In this lawsuit the Midas shops were a franchised operation and it’s important to note that you should not interpret this as representing the actions of all Midas stores. I’m not implying that all Midas stores engage in shoddy practices. I only bring this lawsuit so you can see how a brake scam works.

The Midas lawsuit had an effect on the entire brake service industry. After the lawsuit, many chain operated and even independent repair shops changed their advertising methods and stopping running ads for $99 brake job. Instead they advertise a coupon for $50 or $75 off the price of a brake job. But if the going rate for a brake job is around $275, a shop can barely make money by offering a $50 or $75 discount? Get the picture? It’s my opinion that couponing a brake job is just a sheep in different clothing.

I’m not saying all chain shops are crooked, just that you should be asking more questions of shops that give liberal discount coupons on brake service. Ask if the price includes the right brake pads for your vehicle (over 60% of new vehicles require ceramic brake pads and most “discount” shops don’t include ceramic pads in their initial quote)? Are they using name brand brake parts or private labeled or no-name parts? And check out the shop’s online reviews before you turn over the keys to your vehicle, because many chain operated shops generate the bulk of the consumer complaints.

2) Upgrading you to ceramic brake pads

Shops promote ceramic brake pads as an upgrade. They’re not. If you car came from the factory with ceramic brake pads, that’s the pad that’s “required” on a replacement brake job. It’s not an upgrade! However, if your vehicle was equipped with semi-metallic brake pads (see this post to learn more about the differences in brake pads), then that’s what you should install on a replacement brake job. Semi-metallic brake pads have different braking characteristics than ceramic or NAO style brake pads. If you drive a heavy vehicle or haul heavy loads and your vehicle was equipped with semi-metallic brake pads, switching to ceramic may DECREASE your stopping power!

3) Charging extra for hardware and shims when selling you premium brake pads.

Almost all name brand brake pad manufacturers include hardware and noise reduction shims for free with their premium brake pads. If you’re actually paying for premium brake pads, the shop better not be double-dipping and charging you extra for hardware and shims.

4) Charging premium prices for sub-standard brake rotors and brake pads.

Chain operated and independent shops can buy low quality no-name brake rotors and brake pads for a fraction of the price of premium brands. They don’t brake or wear as long as premium parts. If you’re a cheapskate and want to save money by asking for economy rotors, fine. But if you’re paying for premium rotors, you’d better be getting name brand products. For more information on brake rotor quality, read this post.

5) Selling you new brake calipers when the problem is caused by corroded caliper pins

This is a very common scam and it’s played out this way: The shop will tell you that your brake pads are wearing unevenly because the brake caliper is seized. That’s a very common problem. But many times you don’t have to replace the brake caliper to solve it. All you need is a set of new brake caliper slide pins for about $12 instead of two rebuild brake calipers for $200. If you have the style shown brake caliperin this photo where the caliper pins slide into the caliper bracket and the pins are rusted in the bracket, you can replace just the bracket for about $25-each.

©, 2016 Rick Muscoplat

 

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